ISLAMABAD - The Pakistani army held talks with NATO and Afghan forces yesterday in an effort to improve coordination along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a sign of thawing relations after American airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year.
Pakistan was outraged by the attack on two of its Afghan border posts on Nov. 26 and asserted it was deliberate. Islamabad retaliated by closing its border to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan and by kicking the United States out of an air base used by American drones.
But tensions seemed to have eased slightly, with Pakistani officials saying in recent days that the government should reopen its border to NATO supplies as long as it can negotiate higher fees.
The United States and Pakistan have long had a troubled relationship, but both sides have an interest in preventing it from rupturing completely. The United States needs Pakistan’s help to fight Al Qaeda and negotiate peace with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, while Islamabad is keen on keeping billions of dollars in American aid flowing.
Yesterday’s meeting took place at a border coordination center in Torkham, a city on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Pakistani army said. The operations chief for the Pakistani army, Major General Ashfaq Nadeem, attended, it said.
The United States and Pakistan disagree on who should be blamed for the deadly airstrike in November, which occurred in the middle of the night as American and Afghan forces were conducting operations near the border inside Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army rejected a US investigation that said mistakes were made on both sides and blamed Pakistani troops for triggering the episode by shooting at coalition forces.
Islamabad said its soldiers were shooting at Islamist militants who were nowhere near the coalition troops. It blamed US forces for the attack, saying they failed to notify their Pakistani counterparts that they were conducting operations near the border.
The United States has said its commanders believe some of their military operations have been compromised when they have given details and locations to the Pakistanis - an example of the lack of trust between the two countries.
The United States has acknowledged that efforts to determine whether there were friendly Pakistani forces in the area failed because US forces used inaccurate maps, were unaware of Pakistani border post locations, and mistakenly provided the wrong location for the troops.
Pakistan has dismissed these explanations and asserted that the deadly mistake was “deliberate at some level.’’ It refused to participate in the US investigation, saying past inquiries into border incidents were biased.
US drone strikes against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region along the Afghan border have also caused tension between the two countries.
The latest attack occurred yesterday when US drone-fired missiles hit a house in North Waziristan’s Spalga village, killing nine people, including some domestic Taliban militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
President Obama has ramped up drone strikes in Pakistan since taking office and acknowledged the covert CIA-run program publicly for the first time in a recent interview. But he and other US officials refuse to discuss details of the operations openly.
Although the Pakistani government is widely believed to have provided support for the strikes in the past, that cooperation has become strained as its relationship with Washington has deteriorated.
But the drones have also benefited Pakistan by taking out Taliban fighters waging war against the Pakistani government.